Looks like Koci makes the team; Malone out

30

September

Before we get to enforcer David Koci, wanted to make sure you saw this. The owner of the HC Slovan team said the game will be streamed live on the Internet at osporte.sk.

Anyway, nobody associated with the Lightning will talk about the last cut it must make to get down to the required 24 players, including extra goalie Karri Ramo. But reading between the lines today, you can make a good argument that Koci likely will start the season with Tampa Bay.

Consider coach Barry Melrose has been talking up the big Czech since before the start of the season, and made a big deal of saying he has promised his stars they always will be protected. On Monday, the Lightning traded Nick Tarnasky to the Predators. Tarnasky is no enforcer, but he was a willing fighter. And while Tampa Bay has a few of those still around, it certainly doesn't want Vinny Lecavalier and Ryan Malone regularly handling those duties. Evgeny Artyukhin is big and can hit, but he is not a great fighter.

So that leaves Koci. Melrose would not discuss the whys and wherefores of the team's thought process, but he did say Koci's skating (a big concern before preseason) is better than expected. He also added this:

"He's been great," Melrose said. "He's one of those players you have to have on your team. He lets your star players sleep at night."

Read into that what you will. Given all the circumstances, though, seems like Koci has the inside track and the final cut will come from elsewhere.

Other stuff from the morning skate:

My plan today was to try to interview whoever was sitting in Section C2, Row 8, Seat 47 at the Samsung Arena. You have to sit in this seat to believe it. It is in the middle of the upper bowl behind one of the nets, but is literally four feet behind what has to be an 18-inch wide pillar that helps to hold up the ceiling. In other words, it blocks the view of the middle of the ice from net to net. So if you want to see the goalies, you have to lean into the beer of the guy or gal sitting nest to you. But HC Slovan owner Eric Assimakopoulos said the seat is not sold.

Lightning coach Barry Melrose said Ryan Malone, originally scheduled to play, will sit out tonight with a sore shoulder. Radim Vrbata will take his place. It's been a tough preseason for Vrbata, who has bounced around from line to line looking for someone with whom to develop some chemistry. He began preseason with center Steven Stamkos and Malone.

"I really like him as a player," hockey ops chief Brian Lawton said. "I really haven't seen a lot of great magic or chemistry out there. That's why he's moved around a bit."

That sets up an interesting juxtaposition. Lawton says he sees no chemistry from Vrbata, so Vrbata is shifted from line to line. Vrbata, acquired as a free agent and given a three-year, $9-million contract, says he can't develop any chemistry while he moves around.

"I would rather stick with one (line) for all the preseason games to develop some chemistry," Vrbata said. "But that's what the coaches want to do, so I have to go with it. But for me, personally, it would be better to figure out the person I was going to play with, how they play."

Melrose said all he wants is for Vrbata to play hard.

"I want to see him hunt the puck a little harder. I want to see him win more battles," Melrose said. "The puck can't always come to him. He's got to work to get in the holes. He has to work to win battles. At times I've seen that in him, at times I haven't. It's just a case where he has to compete a little harder. Even with his talent, the puck is not getting to him. He has to have the puck, hopefully he'll realize that, compete a little harder and everything will be taken care of."

Pretty wild scene at the morning press conference as Slovakian reporters peppered Melrose and Vinny Lecavalier with questions. Of defenseman Vladimir Mihalik, who will make the team in the short term thanks, in part, to Paul Ranger's injured shoulder, Melrose said, "He's one of our biggest surprises in camp." ... Defenseman Andrej Meszaros, of Slovakia, who said Monday about 20 family and friends were coming to the game, now claims his ticket list is up to 30. ... Of HC Slovan coach Zdeno Ciger, whom played with the Lightning in 2001-02, Lecavalier, a former teammate, said, "We had some real chemistry. I love Z. He's a great guy, and I'm glad he's doing so well here. He's definitely doing something right." Ciger has led Slovan to consecutive Slovakia elite league titles. ... Mike Smith will start in goal and play the entire game.

As I explained on Monday and today, the Samsung Arena, which was built as an open-air facility and was finally covered in 1954, is a great place, with 8,000 steep seats, an intimate feel and those crazy view-blocking poles. It also does not have a press box. It does have seats with little work tables in the stands reserved for the press. Problem today was it was revealed that at least some of those seats were sold, and myself and ESPN.com's Scott Burnside did not have a place to sit and work while the game was in progress. After much discussions between the NHL representative here and an arena executive, the issue was resolved. Much more accommodating was the press conference room, which included a server behind a bar, pouring juice, soda and water, and coffee into regular coffee cups with spoons and dishes on which to carry the cups.

And if you think that is service, you'll love this. On Monday, as we sat talking to Ciger in the arena stands, another Slovan executive brought him a drink in a pretty, but small glass. Ciger took a sip and scrunched up his face, swallowing quickly. Seventy proof vodka will do that to you.

Cheers.

[Last modified: Sunday, August 16, 2009 4:38pm]

    

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